The two of us don’t agree on much about DSA. Renée is one of the founding members of the Socialist Majority caucus (SMC), while Philip is one of the founding members of the Reform & Revolution caucus. When we’ve told DSA members about our plans to write this piece together, they’ve expressed shock and disbelief. One said, “wow, that’s like Rocky and Apollo Creed becoming besties” (we didn’t ask which one of us was supposed to be which).
Philip thinks Socialist Majority has led DSA in the direction of trailing behind the Democratic Party and our socialists in office at the expense of our socialist politics. Renée thinks Reform & Revolution wants to drag DSA backwards into irrelevance, like other socialist organizations that have refused to engage in mass politics. We support dueling proposals on many of the key political issues before the convention and are running against one another for the National Political Committee (NPC).
There is one thing that we agree on, though – the Convention should pass Democratize DSA 2023. DSA‘s current leadership structure is an 18-member board of directors (the NPC) governing an organization of over 78,000 members. DSA currently has the leadership structure of a nonprofit with a small executive board, a structure designed to be responsive to funders and primarily driven by staff. Democratize DSA would triple the size of the NPC, increasing its responsiveness to members.
Democratize DSA would make our leadership structure similar to other democratic unions and parties that have actual member governance. A larger NPC will help to make political debates on the NPC more transparent and ensure the NPC is more accountable and responsive to DSA members. An expanded NPC would put more members in closer touch with more elected leaders, allow more diverse political voices to be included in leadership, and have enough NPC members to actually be able to fulfill their constitutional duty of liaising with chapters and national committees. We also both support having the larger NPC elected eventually via proportional representation, with Single Transferable Vote as the best current approximation of proportional representation.
Another thing we agree on is that we should put DSA as an organization above caucus politics. Renée and her Democratize DSA co-author Sam Lewis have brought organizational reform proposals to two previous conventions, and seen them fail both times, often along partisan lines. For this convention, to ensure that meaningful structural reform had a chance of a passing, Renée and Sam made considerable effort to ensure they spoke with comrades across the political spectrum during the drafting and amending process, including comrades in Communist Caucus, Bread and Roses, Emerge, Red Star, Marxist Unity Group, and Reform & Revolution. Not all of those conversations were successful, but even hardened opponents of expanding the NPC recognized that the process used to put it together has been a model for cross-caucus cooperation.
Philip’s caucus helped draft another proposal to restructure the DSA national leadership (the National Delegates Council). While they believe that the National Delegates Council would be even more impactful, they endorsed expanding the NPC as the best chance for passing substantial structural reform at this Convention. DSA is too important an organization to the cause of socialism for us not to come together to pass structural reform.
Democratize DSA will not solve all of DSA’s problems. It is not a perfect governance structure. It is not even the governance structure that either of us would prefer were we writing on a blank slate. What it is is a simple fix that would significantly increase the democratic responsiveness of the NPC, and allow NPC members to fulfill their constitutional obligation to liaise with chapters, and with national committees, in ways that will knit the organization closer together.
If the two of us can come together to support this proposal, we believe it is possible for 2/3 of the delegates at DSA’s convention to set aside their particular concerns on the margins about this proposal and pass this important reform. When Sam and Renée were talking to people outside Socialist Majority about Democratize DSA 2023, the most common reason for opposition they heard was distrust of Socialist Majority. Philip, who has been advocating for people to not vote for SMC candidates and to put a “left-wing majority” on the NPC, recognizes that just because a proposal was offered by a different caucus is no reason not to support what is DSA’s best chance to make the kind of basic structural reform at this convention, reform that is beyond urgent. If he can do it, you can too.
We can spend two more years with an overworked and under-available NPC, unable to properly represent DSA’s membership, or we can pass meaningful structural reform at the convention this weekend. From both sides of one of the widest political chasms in DSA, we both, together, implore you to do the latter.